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Afghanistan: Many Invasions and lessons not learnt




Afghanistan is known as the “graveyard of empires”. Almost all the empires that grew in the region, and also some from far away regions, had invaded Afghanistan. These invasions have rarely been successful, the invader being forced to retreat due to a combination of factors; tenacity of the tribes that inhabited the country and the terrain of the land being the main reasons. However, big powers had invaded the country several times and some had managed to stay for long periods, but at great loss in men and money. Britain and the Soviet Union had come there several times, and the US had managed to stay there for two decades in recent times.

Persians had been the invaders that history records as the first empire that made a forceful entry into Afghanistan. Then Alexander the Great from Macedonia (Greece) came there in 330 BC, as part of his war against Persia. After his death in 323 BC, the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom was formed and they remained in Afghanistan and West India for three centuries. By the way, during this period, one of the Bactrian kings of this Kingdom, King Menander 1 converted to Buddhism following his dialogue with Buddhist priests in India. These discussions have been compiled as “Milinda Prassna” and are an important component of Buddhist scripture.

Arab Caliphate invaded Afghanistan in the 7th Century and converted the country into a Muslim nation. The Arabs were followed by Genghis Khan of the Mongol Empire in the 13th Century, and then by Timur (modern Uzbekistan). In 1837 when there was internal conflict in Kabul, Sikh king Ranjith Singh from Punjab annexed Peshawar and other parts of Afghanistan. It was the British who replaced the Sikhs in 1838. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, Afghanistan was invaded three times from British India. The first Anglo-Afghan war of 1838-1842 was conducted with the intention of limiting Russian influence. Within four years the British were expelled. Not learning from their mistakes, the British launched a second invasion in 1878, for much the same reasons and stayed for two years. A third invasion was attempted by the British in 1919, which lasted for three months only and ended in a compromise that saw Afghanistan reassert its independence.

Ten years later in 1929 the Soviet Union launched its first invasion of Afghanistan. The second intervention was in 1930. In 1979 the Afghan government asked for assistance from the Soviet Union to fight a rebellion. After some reluctance the Red Army was sent to quell the insurgency. Russian forces were subsequently reinforced by the 40th Army. This move had several consequences, including a boycott of the Moscow Olympics. Soviet troops numbered 100,000, and provoked the US and Saudi Arabia to fund terrorist groups fighting the Soviet occupation. These groups were successful in finally forcing the Soviet troops to withdraw in 1989. The Taliban grew out of these groups of terrorists.

Though it is often said that the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 in search of Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden, who had taken the responsibility for attacking the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, it had been involved in Afghanistan affairs for quite a while and had been responsible for the rise of Al Qaeda. The US had been funding these terrorist organisations with the intention of thwarting the Russian involvement, but eventually had to pay the price when the terrorists turned their guns on the US.

The US came to occupy Afghanistan in 2001 and fought a bloody war for twenty years. They spent more than three trillion USD and lost more than 3400 troops. After 20 years the US was made to cut a deal with the Taliban. The agreement that was signed by the US and Taliban did not include the Afghan Government or any of the NATO partners who had troops in Afghanistan. Most commentators consider this sudden withdrawal as a betrayal of its allies by the US.

This is not the first time the US has suddenly given up the fight. In Vietnam too, the US was humbled and forced to pack up and leave in 1975, without achieving anything except the men and money they lost. When the US lost in Vietnam, many Americans believed that the US by virtue of its failings at home and in Vietnam had no business attempting international leadership at all. Many believed the US had to pull back in the world and concentrate on challenges at home. In 1941 the US President Franklin Roosevelt and UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill had entered into the Atlantic Charter, which sought to advance a rules based liberal world order. To pursue these policies is proving to be highly costly in terms of blood and money.

This is not the first time the US had seemingly betrayed its friends. Historically, it had happened during the American War of Independence against the British too. The US had asked for assistance from France and had got it. But after the War it had quickly made peace with Britain, and unilaterally concluded a peace treaty with Britain that was detrimental to France’s interests. This put Louis XVI’s regime in a difficult position, which it is believed gave cause for the French Revolution.

The US doesn’t seem to have learnt from its past failures. They are now eyeing the Far East, and before the dust has settled in Afghanistan the Vice President is touring that region. One hopes they will not create another Vietnam or Afghanistan in the Far East. Chinese not to be out done have moved into Afghanistan with a lot of aid. Absence of US troops in Afghanistan would help the Chinese to pursue their policies in the Belt and Road Initiative in that region.

In the final analysis, the US or any other big power should not be invading any other country with imperialist intentions. Some argue that the US cannot be trusted and therefore its allies cannot rely on it. More than a question of trust, the fact of the matter is that imperialism, particularly when it is driven by military invasion, may not work in today’s world; for nobody likes to be under the yoke of a foreign power. People in the US have taken to the streets on this issue, and demanded that instead of waging war in foreign lands the Government must solve the problems at home. Poverty rates and homelessness are on the rise and the gap between the rich and the poor is widening. Covid pandemic has made the situation worse. While the billionaires in the US have doubled their wealth, the number of people below poverty line has increased during Covid times.

Afghanistan has managed to maintain its reputation as the “graveyard of empires”. Would America continue to strengthen its evil reputation as the invader who cut and ran after causing much damage to the victim, as well as to itself, with nothing to show for its efforts. It’s not only in Vietnam and Afghanistan that America had pursued its evil reputation and then run away, but also in Iraq (2013), Syria (2019) and perhaps in Libya too. Where will it be next? Anyway, it’s time the US realized that the world does not need it as its policeman.

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Sri Lanka cricket: what ails thou?



By a Sports Aficionado

This cricket-mad nation was appalled by the pathetic and blatantly disgraceful performance of its National Cricket Team at the premier event of the game, the World Cup. Even before the event ended, heads rolled over here on the cricket board. Such action should have been taken long ago but what we need now is an honest analysis of the debacle and the remedial measures that need to be taken.

One of the root causes of the problem is that there is far too much money in the game at present. Even in the face of the current economic crisis the money that has been remorselessly thrown around cricket is totally unbelievable. The amount of money that has been paid out to the so-called ‘support staff’ is absolutely mind-boggling. For what, pray we ask? To repeatedly lick the sporting wounds inflicted even by lesser mortals? Shame on the Cricket Board that seems to have completely wasted all that money for years in the past. In recent years we have not gained even an iota of returns for all the money spent on locals and foreigners to supposedly elevate the performance levels.

What we are not told are the most likely princely sums paid out to the players by the Cricket Board. If we are to judge that by the amounts paid to the support staff, the amounts paid to the players must be in a celestial planetary orbit. Those amounts are most likely to be astronomical. It is also a certainty that the Cricket Board Staff too have been at the receiving end of even cosmological amounts. The beneficiaries in the Cricket Board also include various types of managers and other assorted executives and supervisors. Then for good measure, add overriding perpetual corruption and you have the recipe for the disaster that it was. The current situation is nothing new., it has been there for quite a while.

So, for a start, trim down the expenses and most definitely the amounts paid to all and sundry through the Cricket Board. We do not need all kinds of suddhas in the supporting staff brigade to resurrect the game. We have locals who could do even a better job for much less payment. Just take a chapter from the book of India, the nation that is flying sky-high in cricket at present. They do not have foreign managers, foreign coaches, or any other foreign white-skinned ‘experts’ to guide their players. What they have is a home-grown well-knit team of local experts who work behind the scenes to produce the results that they consistently provide. They also have a local medical team that can hold its own against the very best in the world. Their players will interact beautifully with the local experts quite unlike our players who would even venerate the ground those so-called foreign experts walk on, but look down practically murderously at local experts. Our players might even refuse to play if a local expert is put in charge of guiding them.

A good start for enhancing performance up to the highest levels is to have a reasonable monthly retainer for players contracted to the Cricket Administration and to that add appearance fees for matches and substantial rewards for good performance in the field. These could be payments for individual achievements as well as stellar successes by the team to be shared equally amongst the players. There is no harm in paying dearly for proven successes.

Our cricket team is so very poor in adjusting to various situations mentally. In any sport, there are ups and downs. It is only the mentally strong who will be able to come through the setbacks and shine. A sportsperson should first learn to handle defeat before he or she can savour the joys of victory. A winner is just the one who can convert fear into confidence, setbacks into comebacks, excuses into firm decisions and mistakes into learnings. Any sporting person or team needs to adjust to the mental strains of intense competition. A person who can help in such situations is a Sports Psychologist. We have never had a dedicated Sports Psychologist for our cricket team. Apparently, the players are totally against using the services of a Sports Psychologist. They are probably of the mistaken belief that psychologists are needed only by the mentally deranged. The end result is that they become perpetual losers who continue to earn loads of dough. Little do they realise that Sports Psychologists are part and parcel of top-class teams of any sport and even individual high-flying performers.

To add salt to the wounds of our cricket team, many and varied injuries are a real bane for consistent performance at the highest levels by our cricketers. Our players get all the possible injuries in the book., some getting the same injury repeatedly. It has been very clearly demonstrated that in any sport, including those that do not involve muscular exertion, physical fitness is of the utmost importance for stellar performance. It is not necessary to delve too deeply into this as far as our cricket team is concerned. They are probably the most unfit team in the flock of teams playing international cricket. They have only to look at the training programme of 35-year-old Virat Kohli to see what needs to be done. He works extremely hard at his physical fitness and the results are there for all to see. In addition to being a classy batsman, his running between the wickets, together with his fielding and catching are the greatest hallmarks of the cricketer.

There is no proper medical team led by a qualified Sports Team Physician who is in charge of all medical matters related to training, diagnosis of injuries and appropriate management. Unfortunately, it is the physiotherapists and physical trainers who seem to be doing all of that in our cricket team and running the show. When a player gets injured on the field, it is a physiotherapist or a trainer who runs onto the field. It should be a properly qualified sports doctor who should be doing that with the other ancillary service providers following behind him or her. Our players have come to a stage where they trust the ancillary service providers rather than properly qualified sports doctors. Those providers speak a kind of high-flown language that impresses the players. However, those words would fail them miserably if they were to be confronted by properly qualified medical personnel.

The woes of our national cricket scenario are multifactorial. Yet for all that people who are selected to represent our country in cricket should realise what an honour and a privilege it is to represent our country. They should take tremendous pride in that. Then they should try always to give of their best to our beautiful country. There are no simple solutions to the problems of Sri Lankan cricket. The talent is there for all to see. It just needs to be properly nurtured and harnessed. It would be pertinent here to echo the words of the 36-year-old champion tennis player Novak Djokovic after winning the most recent Paris Masters Tournament: “Either you let the circumstances and the feelings that you have at that moment master you or you try to master them in a way. There is no in-between. You either fold, retire, or simply give away the match, or you try to draw the energy from the adrenaline that you are feeling from the crowd, from the momentum that you are feeling on the field.”

Need we say more? With proper guidance and classy management, our cricketers need not be the perpetual losers.

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Going ritual mode



A representational image

The article titled “The distortion of Buddhism and the rise of meaningless rituals” written by ‘Member of the silent majority’, which appeared in The Sunday Island of November 26 is a bold explication of Buddhists’ going ritual mode, which most of them seem to feel as the highpoint of living a Buddhist life. The writer comments on the wanton waste in terms of money, resources and time on revelries that pass as demonstrations of religious fervour: “All this excess is expressed in the form of Katina pinkamas that we are witnessing right now. They may be described as carnivals, not religious practices.” This is the unadorned truth of the matter. What is more harmful is that this sort of ritualistic routine helps perpetuate nothing but mass excitement unwittingly construed as the most certain indication of living a Buddhist life and protecting Buddhism.

It is this very skewed attention to the habitual rites that prevents us from seeking the meaning and, more importantly, the applicability of even the religion’s basic teachings in practical life. Unfortunately, the more festive and adorned our outward expressions of religion are, the more easily we tend to think that festivals are the most reliable guarantors of our religion.

Our elites, who are skilled in the delicate art of exploiting the religious sentiments of people for ensuring self-gain and political stability, make a big fuss about ‘protecting religion’ thereby, wittingly or unwittingly, sowing the seeds of divisive feelings of “self” and “other”. This is a grand way of making Buddhists feel that Buddhism is, more than anything else, something to be protected like personal property. Stating that Buddha discourages rituals, the writer goes on to say that Buddha extolled the practice of virtue: “The path which is simple and direct, is clearly stated by the Buddha, namely: the practice of generosity, virtue and mindfulness for lay people; and the practice of virtue, concentration and wisdom for the monks.” Our rulers seem to continuously maintain that if anyone wishes to ‘protect Buddhism’, he has to protect it from any ‘harm’ coming from outside. The writer challenges this when he says, “The Buddha predicted that the decline of Buddhism would indeed be caused by its corruption from within.”

However, the problem is, for the people, be they Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, etc. there is no escape from the political, economic and social forces that determine their entire outlook on life. The good values like generosity, empathy, tolerance, etc., which are not the exclusive preserve of one religion but virtues that promote the wellbeing of all societies, will remain just rarefied notions in the air until the root causes of greed, corruption and mindless competition propelled by consumerism continue to constitute our criteria of progress.

Most ‘development’ projects that hide corrupt deals bringing enormous jackpots to the elites begin with loud religious ceremonies that help maintain the collective myth of preserving religion. The more we start any programme: opening ceremony, construction project, shramadana, funeral, community meeting and whatnot, the more intense our feeling of religiosity becomes, and the more assured we are of ‘preserving’ our religion. In other words, what we are strongly convinced of as the preservation of our religion is the routine observance of the relevant set of rituals. ‘Protecting’ religion, in this sense is the name of the game and all devotees feel happy that ‘our religion’ is ‘protected’. The whole caravan of religions moves forward satisfying the weekly, monthly or seasonal outpouring of our sense of ‘spirituality’ and our sense of religiosity is well taken care of.

It is this kind of cosmetic religiosity that is easily hijacked by political leaders who never miss a chance of showing their religious fervour whenever there are TV cameras around them. And they are the very people who, unluckily, get exposed at regular intervals for their connivance in all kinds of scams. However, we rarely find time to question how these self-professed guardians of religion have benefitted from being publicly religious and swearing to protect religion.

It would be more beneficial to society if people start asking themselves whether it is possible to envision a good society without religious branding. After all, what everyone wants is a good society where all can live peacefully and work productively for the well-being of all- where ‘peace’ cannot be sold as an election promise.

It matters little whether you label your society as Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Moslem, multi-religious or secular.

Susantha Hewa

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LIFE IS A FROLIC…. Goolbai Gunasekara’s latest book of humour



Published by BAYOWL Press Sam and Hussein Publishing House

Versatile author, Goolbai Gunasekara’s books are always eminently readable whether they be on History, Education or Humour. Her latest book is hilarious from beginning to end and all Sri Lankan readers will relate to her amusing anecdotes, relationships, and laughable incidents told with a personal chuckle and a genuine sense of laughter.

“Humour is only amusing when you can laugh at yourself” says Goolbai. You must never laugh at other people by saying anything hurtful.” She quotes, “My mother used to tell me never to write about someone who cannot hit back. I have tried to follow this advice and although humour is sometimes exaggerated to make it funnier it is never offensive.”

I recall the KitKat stories of her granddaughter which were such a hit years ago. KitKat was actually a composite of ALL children of that age. Today, Goolbai’s humour ranges over every known topic against a back drop of modern doings The Social life 65 years (ago as a school girl) is compared to social life today. The difference if mind boggling. Visits to the Dentist are particularly funny as one of my best friends is a Dentist. Goolbai asks how a Dentist expects a patient to answer with his mouth open, but still manages to carry on, cheerfully, with his monologue anyway!

Weddings of yesterday are compared to weddings of today. One story ends with a father viewing the unfolding expenses with horror and telling his bridesmaid daughter, “Darling, when you want to marry, do me a favour and elope.”

The story “Bicycle Boom” describes “Our lovely Mayor Rosy” and the Dutch Ambassador (of some time ago,) trying to popularize the use of the bike to help traffic. Another pithy comment describes the place ‘Clothes and Shoe Brands’ have in the life of a complete philistine (herself) who hardly recognizes a Nike from a Bata.

Nothing Goolbai says can ever cause offence. She is witty and kind in all the 58 short episodes and I am both entertained and fascinated by the versatility of this well-known authoress who writes books on Education with the same panache and sense of humour as LIFE IS A FROLIC.

I cannot end these few comments without reference to the drivers of long ago. They were better than Mosad agents in keeping beady eyes on unwanted male attention and were thoroughly trusted by suspicious parents.

Read this book as a complete Mood Lifter. You can’t go wrong

Sandra Gomes

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